Talk about a major dream come true.
“I’m tap dancing on Broadway, which is pretty spectacular,” says Fort Worth actor Major Attaway by phone from his new home base of New York.
Dancing is just one of the many talents he is displaying as part of the cast of the smash-hit Disney musical Aladdin.
Attaway, well-known throughout North Texas for his performances on stage and voice-over work in animation and video games, recently made his Broadway debut in the lead role of Genie in the musical based on Disney’s1992 animated film of the same title.
It’s one of the three roles for which Attaway serves as “standby” (Babkak and the Sultan are the others) — which means he goes to the theater for every performance, where he is either scheduled to perform in place of one of the regular cast members or ready to go on at a moment’s notice. (James Monroe Iglehart, who regularly plays Genie, won a 2014 Tony Award for the role.)
Twenty-eight-year-old Attaway made his debut March 20, the second anniversary of Aladdin’s opening on Broadway.
“When I was 10 years old, I went to New York and saw my first Broadway show, The Lion King, at the New Amsterdam (Theatre), which is where I am working today,” he says. “This is a job that a million people would be happy to have.”
Attaway grew up in Fort Worth and graduated from Arlington Heights High School. He worked extensively at Casa Mañana, beginning with his time as a young “Casa Kid,” until his departure for New York. His first show at Casa was Babe the Sheep Pig, in which he played a sheep wrangler.
Fort Worth actor David Coffee has worked with him since Attaway was a child.
“I can still see him [in my memory]. He was only 12 or 13, but he already had size 12 shoes,” Coffee says. “But even then, he seemed immediately at ease. I never saw any nervousness or hesitancy at all.”
Coffee saw Attaway grow into a multi-faceted performer of superior talent; besides regular roles at Casa Mañana, he earned critical and audience acclaim in musicals at Jubilee Theatre and Dallas Theater Center, among others.
“He is a triple threat. There are very few performers who can act, sing and dance like Major can,” Coffee says. “I am only surprised that [Attaway’s move to Broadway] happened this fast.”
Attaway’s work in youth shows at Casa is somewhat legendary. His portrayal of Horton in a production of Seussical Jr. three years ago, for example, is still talked about.
“He has a beautiful, rich voice,” says Noah Putterman, director of children’s theater and education at Casa Mañana “And in his acting, the sincerity he brings to everything is so real.”
But, it was a much more unlikely Attaway character — the title role of Frosty the Snowman — that most impressed Putterman.
“The second he smiled, I said, ‘That’s him,’ ” Putterman says of Attaway’s tryout. “After his audition, I went back and rewrote the show around him.”
Attaway owned that role (which he played in a three-piece white suit, not a snowman costume) so thoroughly that Putterman says “some of the children were afraid he was going to melt when he came out into the lobby after the show.”
Attaway has many vocal cheerleaders in the Dallas-Fort Worth theater community.
“It is so easy to root for Major,” Putterman says. “Ask anyone. Every single person, without exaggeration, would say no one deserves it more. He’s beloved.”
Attaway now makes his home in the Bronx; his contract with Aladdin continues through the end of the year, and one director says he thinks Attaway will be “an important piece of the show for a very long time.” Show personnel have been impressed with him since day one.
“There was something about Major from the moment he came into the room for his audition. He has such natural charisma, and is so genuine and so authentic,” says Casey Hushion, the associate resident director of Aladdin, who has also directed several shows at Casa (albeit none with Attaway). “He checks each one of the boxes of the strengths and requirements to play his role.
“But I think what really makes him stand out is his spirit. There’s something very special about who he is as a person, and that comes on stage with him. You feel that as a company member. I think that’s what really sets him apart.”
That, and the hard work he put in, physically, to secure his place in the show. Attaway lost 50 pounds to gain the stamina he needs for his highly energetic and physically demanding roles in Aladdin.
“I had to take some time and really dedicate myself to the weight loss,” he says.
The deprivations of dieting were more than worth it, he says, for the magic of playing the role of the Genie on Broadway for the first time. His parents, Major S. and Terri Attaway, were in that debut-night audience.
“I made sure that I took the first moment to take it all in,” he says. “It’s unique, because the Genie opens the show alone, center stage. So I got to take in a sold-out house for a few seconds and breathe that in. I’ll always remember that feeling.”
Just as he says he will always remember what happened after the delivery of an especially long and taxing number.
“The applause reminded me of rain, in the most soothing and calming way you could imagine,” he says. “It was this soothing validation of hard work that all came behind that sound of rain.”
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